Full circle

My butt is cold.

That’s probably not the classiest way to start a blog entry, but it’s what I’m thinking as I sit on this ancient metal lawn chair in front of the motel I bought exactly a year ago, watching the tumbleweeds struggle to free themselves from the barbed-wire fence across the highway and waiting in the brittle night air to see whether the coyotes will serenade me again like they did last night.

Like the tumbleweeds and their namesake motel, I am a latecomer to this ancient land.

Uprooted and directionless, I blew in from the east and found myself caught on the fence of a life unlike anything I’d ever known.

A year later, I remain unsure of why I thought this was a good idea, but I am certain it was the best idea I’ve ever had.

At 11:38 a.m., Feb. 15, 2010, I became the proud owner of the historic Tumbleweed Motel, which now consists of five lovingly restored rooms, an office, a functional wringer washer, a pair of clothesline poles that I still haven’t gotten around to sanding and spraying with Rust-Oleum, a developmentally disabled handyman who calls me “Sissy” and walks two miles to the truck stop next to the interstate off-ramp every morning to buy canned tuna for the feral cats that skulk around the edges of the property, an espresso machine, a collie mix rescued from a barbed-wire fence, four cats rescued from a culvert during a rainstorm, a dark-eyed man with a wry sense of humor who became my boyfriend in April and my husband in October, a feisty teenage desk clerk whose rightful title probably ought to be “assistant manager,” and a three-month-old fetus who waits silently for the right moment to make a grand entrance into a world full of everyday adventure and fiery sunsets that never fail to take my breath away.

I tumbled into town with a splitting headache and a heart full of grief, orphaned, jobless, uncertain of my future, with nothing to lean on but a small insurance settlement and the publishing rights to my father’s music.

A year later, sitting here on my own property next to Route 66, with my freezing butt and my freezing fingers and a faster Internet connection than I had a year ago, waiting for a visit from unseen coyotes, I feel my shallow chaparral roots beginning to deepen, having probed this dry land and found enough love and beauty to heal a broken heart and support a life whose quietude somehow manages to dazzle me more than the glitter and flash of the city I left behind.

My butt is cold. My life is beautiful. And with that note to open their song, the coyotes are just beginning a lullaby wild and familiar.

– Sierra

Nowhere I’d rather be

It is literally a degree outside. Fortunately, I am curled up under a warm blanket inside, with Grant’s arm around me, the stereo playing an old Neil Diamond album very quietly in the background, and the smell of freshly baked gingersnaps hanging sweetly in the air.

There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be.

Well, nowhere except the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon, of course.

The bleachers at Wrigley would be awfully unpleasant this evening, so I’ll settle for what I’ve got. It’s a pretty close second, anyway.

— Sierra

Wintry feeling

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

— Rogers Hornsby

Substitute “tourists” for “baseball,” and you’ve pretty much got my take on Route 66 in winter. I know a girl who loves the offseason. Loves it. She drives 66 all year, every chance she gets, and she swears the best time to be on the road is in the winter, because that’s when the crowds and the tourists are gone, and you can sit in a cafe and drink coffee and eat chili with extra hot sauce and listen to the regulars or check into a motel and have the whole place to yourself, absolute silence except for the buzz of the neon transformers, and look up at a cold, clear sky and catch your breath and think.

She obviously doesn’t own a motel. That silence gets old when you’ve gotten spoiled to daily adventures with tourists from all over the world. A day or two is nice — you can catch your breath — but the charm wears off in a hurry. I need a project of some kind, stat.

Maybe I should use the winter to work with Joey more. I wonder how much he could learn if I gave him my undivided attention for the next four months or so?

— Sierra

Giving thanks

I have a million blessings to count tomorrow, but the one I’m savoring the most at the moment is the simplest: a flock of brown construction paper hand turkeys decorated with tempera paint and embellished with gold glitter and red, orange, and yellow marabou feathers. Sandy and Lil Miss helped Joey and a pair of 4-year-old twins from Minnesota make them as decorations for the lobby this evening.

I cannot begin to explain why construction paper turkeys made by tracing around children’s hands delight me so much. They just do.

— Sierra

Crash and burn

Sorry for the extended silence; I’ve been a bit under the weather the past few days, and I just haven’t had the energy to do much of anything. With tourist season winding down, the Tumbleweed has been largely devoid of customers, so I’ve spent most of the week resting and trying to figure out why I’m so bloody tired all of a sudden.

Grant says it’s probably just the letdown after a long tourist season and a very eventful summer, coupled with the approach of a sad anniversary (Friday marked a year since I lost Dad) and a happy anniversary (next Monday marks a year since Miss Shirley, Joey, and the Tumbleweed turned my life upside-down and gave me a new raison d’etre). I guess he’s right, but I’ve ridden my share of emotional roller coasters in the past 20 years, and this doesn’t feel quite like any of them. I just feel … not even sick, really; just vaguely uncomfortable and very, very tired.

I’d better pull myself together pretty soon. Sandy is rolling into town tomorrow, and I don’t want her to get stuck with all the Thanksgiving preparations. She’s an amazing cook, but she’s our guest; she shouldn’t have to spend her whole visit in the kitchen while I lie around feeling sorry for myself.

— Sierra


I can’t sleep. I don’t know why. I’m tired. Exhausted, in fact. But I can’t seem to shut down, and when I can’t shut down, I fidget. Fidgeting is fine when you live by yourself, but when it’s 2:30 a.m., and your husband has to be at work in four and a half hours, it’s probably best to get up and find something to do while your mind races from one topic to another, panicking over a plethora of deadlines that don’t really have to be met.

So it is that I find myself curled up under a hand-crocheted afghan in the lobby of this old motel on this cold northern New Mexico night, listening to the new Neil Diamond album and dreaming of my father through a haze of sleepy tears.

I’m not sure I should have downloaded this album. Diamond’s voice has always reminded me of Dad’s, and his latest project is a soft, stripped-down, contemplative collection of covers with a simplicity as elegant as the minimalist photo on the front of the album. That familiar voice — world-weary and gentle — carries the whole thing, and on “Alone Again (Naturally),” it breaks my heart. If Dad had recorded another album, this could just as easily have been his song. If I hadn’t stumbled into the lobby of the Tumbleweed a little less than a year ago and wandered into a life unlike anything I’d ever imagined for myself, it could have been mine, though unsung.

I wish Grant didn’t have to work in the morning. I wish I could wake him up and put on “A Song for You” — oh, my God, is it sublime — and melt into his arms and dance around the lobby in the middle of the night with nobody around to wonder why the hell the principal and his wife are awake and slow-dancing in their living room at 2:30 a.m. on a school night.

I wish … but of course I can’t, because I am a grownup, and more importantly, he is a grownup, and so I will just sit here under one of Miss Shirley’s afghans and listen to Neil Diamond and think of my father and have a good cry by myself in the dark.

At least it’s a good cry.

— Sierra


Grant is at a ballgame tonight, so I’m spending a little quality time with my old friends Ben and Jerry, listening to Tom Petty on the stereo, and relaxing into the familiar, strangely comfortable depression that settles over me every fall like a great soft-feathered bird, dulling my senses as the cold clouds dull the sky.

You know that old Karen Carpenter song that goes, “Talking to myself and feeling old”? That’s how I feel this time of year: nothing wrong; just a vague sadness that feels oddly reassuring in its familiarity and predictability. I don’t remember the first time I felt this way. Was it the year I lost Mom? Was it earlier? Later? Did something trigger it, or did it just drift in one afternoon, spread its wings across my consciousness, and take up temporary residence?

I’d thought I might avoid it this year, but here it is, quietly announcing the arrival of autumn as I lie here on the couch, waiting for the game to end so Grant can come home and put his arms around me and drive away the shadows that creep into my thought when I have too much time on my hands.

— Sierra